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Microsoft's "Advantage" Malfunctions

The machinery behind Microsoft's "Windows Genuine Advantage" anti-piracy system had a meltdown over the weekend. Some customers found that their paid-for, legitimate copies of Windows failed this test, which Microsoft requires before downloads of many non-security updates.

In Windows XP, an incorrect validation failure doesn't have to cause an immediate crisis; beyond the denial of the sought-after download, it only puts an annoying nag on the desktop. In Windows Vista, however, failing validation can send a PC into "reduced functionality mode," which you locks out of every program but your Web browser.

Users began posting complaints about this on a Microsoft forum shortly after midnight Saturday morning. Ars Technica's report Saturday evening cited these postings, as well as a series of replies by Microsoft product manager Phil Liu promising a fix "before I go to sleep."

It looks like Liu didn't have to lose too much shut-eye, as Microsoft's WGA blog reported that the server issue had been fixed by Saturday afternoon. Both that post and another on Microsoft's Windows Vista Team Blog said users with incorrectly invalidated PCs could fix that problem by returning to Microsoft's validation page.

Neither post, however, explained what had gone wrong to cause this "situation" or how it had been fixed.

The somewhat-amazing thing to me is that this hasn't happened more often. WGA is a painfully complex system that has to work on millions of different PCs with widely varying configurations, and it's not even a one-time check--a Windows installation will have to pass this test repeatedly over the course of its useful life. And yet most people don't report issues with it, aside from annoyance at the idea of having one's honor repeatedly challenged in this manner.

Did you experience this problem yourself over the weekend?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 27, 2007; 9:53 AM ET
Categories:  Windows  
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Well if you purchase your software legitimately you have nothing to worry about.

Posted by: Jason | August 27, 2007 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Nonsense, as the article states, you can buy your product legit and have it lock up on you.

Posted by: Colin | August 27, 2007 10:42 AM | Report abuse

this calls for a class action lawsuit

Posted by: gary | August 27, 2007 10:46 AM | Report abuse

I think it is pure BS that you have to jump through hoops just to download a file, anyway. Especially if you are a "TECH" trying to fix M$'s **** junk!!!!

Posted by: PEEVED | August 27, 2007 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I had a legit copy and I couldn't get validated over the weekend. It finally did Sunday afternoon. I almost went to Ubuntu because of it. Windows Vista Ultimate is way too buggy. I still can't get my DVD players to work with Windows Media Player. I can with other player applications. I've done everything do update my hardware with the latest drivers and hardware flash. I've done every possible update. The funny thing is, Vista Ultimate (64 bit) still has trouble recognizing its own webcam. I download and installed the latest drivers (the 64 bit version) and Vista still doesn't recognize its own webcam (NX-6000). Still nothing and the people at Microsoft still don't have an answer for me. I've built half a dozen PCs in my lifetime and this is the worst I've ever experienced it. Microsoft Vista Ultimate has many bugs in it. Go to the microsoft forums at and you'll see.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 27, 2007 10:54 AM | Report abuse

This is a shame, and really represents a poor design for the validation software ... if the WGA just said "couldn't contact validation server" and gave a week's grace for previously registered users, then the whole problem would have been averted.

Although, I'm guessing, the entire downtime was the result of running a mission-critical application on a Windows Server instead of Linux ... bad form! No biscuit!

Posted by: Griffin3 | August 27, 2007 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Jason, you twit, didn't you read the article? Those people whose computers were reduced in functionality HAD purchased legitimate licenses -- that's the problem the article raised.

FURTHER, how many cycles does the computer spend checking itself -- or checking with the Mother Ship, throughout the day to ensure that all its bits and pieces are part of the legitimate package? Remember initial discussions over what sorts of changes to hardware could be made before the license decided that suddenly this was a new machine that required relicensing?

Get off your high horse and accept that this is a terrible process, a terrible solution to M$' (admittedly very real) piracy problem.

And then buy a mac.

Posted by: Bush -- not related | August 27, 2007 11:11 AM | Report abuse is currently offline

Posted by: Anonymous | August 27, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

I got infected by Microsoft's mistake. It is the end of my relationship with them. They libeled me and thousands of others. They treated us as crooks. Shame on them. Shame on us for putting up with them.

Posted by: Richard | August 27, 2007 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Yet another reason why I am a happy MacOS X and Ubuntu user. I'm a knowledgeable user of various Windows platforms, too, but they lost me when I learned that you have to click on the Start button to Stop the machine.

I can't begin to understand all of the articles recommending the purchase of a Windows laptop for students going back to school. How many hours a week (and what percentage of their machine cycles) are devoted to installing, running, and maintaining the Windows OS and the horrific Norton/Symantec anti-everything software? Talk about an energy crisis!

Posted by: TonyW | August 27, 2007 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Well, after having switched recently to Mac for work (I got sick of my Dell's issues), I am really loving it and I don't miss these stupid issues thrust upon paying customers by MSFT.

Posted by: Chris | August 27, 2007 12:54 PM | Report abuse

All I can say is that MS has been f***ing with consumers for years, and nothing has really been done to force them to fix their software BEFORE they release it. So far XP has been the only seemingly truly reliable OS from them, and even that had to have tons of patches and security fixes.

Posted by: J2 | August 27, 2007 1:44 PM | Report abuse

WGA? Another feature my Macs don't have. Same for antivirus, etc.

Posted by: Silva | August 27, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Get off your high horse and accept that this is a terrible process, a terrible solution to M$' (admittedly very real) piracy problem.

I agree with your previous words, but...

What piracy problem? Companies buy licsenses, people with money to burn buy liscenses, and home users who buy from Dell, Gateway, etc pay for liscenses as part of their hardware purchases. Who are these people who actually go to the store and buy Windows in a box? There's always a friend who can burn a copy for you.

If WGA actually did it's job well (which it doesn't even when it works), how many computer users would actually go out and spend the $200+ for something that they have always considered to be free?

(This is what the Linux-on-the-desktop people don't understand. For the average user, Windows, Photoshop, etc ARE free. And I say that as a long-time exclusively Linux user.)

If piracy of Windows stopped its market share would go into freefall, and MS knows this. That's why WGA is so easy to circumvent (by design).

Posted by: Anonymous | August 27, 2007 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Seems as though the Europeans make M$ do all kinds of stuff without really trying. Too bad we can't do that. Jason seems to be the sort that leads the U.S. approach - they simply don't understand the problem or our frustration.

Posted by: umm.huh | August 27, 2007 1:58 PM | Report abuse

M$ should be a bit careful- after all it is all the piracy that got them to where they are. Most non legit users do become paying customers later...

For me, I start with a fresh install with all my apps that I need and store all data on a 2ndary partition and do a ghost of drive C. When windozes starts dying, I reghost and wham, it's all good again.

Otherwise, yes, I'd spend more time reinstalling and debugging windoze then actually working.

Posted by: windoze user | August 27, 2007 2:14 PM | Report abuse

If you give Micro$oft your money, you get what you deserve. Where do you think the money to pay for those 'validation servers' comes from? That's right, your pocket. You all have nobody to blame but yourselves. When is the public going to wake up and stop using proprietary software?

Posted by: Jason: did you read the article? | August 27, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I did, in fact, encounter this issue on Saturday.

It was on a client's major manufacturer laptop running XP pro. She asked me to troubleshoot a minor issue, and I ran WU as I am in the habit of doing. I was astounded (the obvious observation) that WGA failed validation ... but as I hadn't installed the OS all I could say to the client was along the lines of 'some idiot didn't use the cd-key off of the bottom of the laptop'.

If I had been installing and updating an OS it would have been a much bigger problem for me, but in this case I wasn't that bothered.

This post is very informative. I haven't read it elsewhere, so I must credit you, Rob, with keeping me informed. I will rerun WU the next time I'm at that site.

Thanks so much!

Posted by: Redwretch | August 27, 2007 3:24 PM | Report abuse

I don't think that I had a problem on my PC running XP Home over the weekend. However, I didn't try to download software either. In any case, all is well today, the 27th.

In fact, my PC is (knock wood) running well, the best ever, since purchase in 2004. I think this is because I replaced McAfee with AVASTI and now perform regular Ad-Aware checks.

Posted by: MMRudy | August 27, 2007 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Its difficult to know whether or not I experienced this problem. M$ system feature (error) messages are not really informative. M$ should get an Orwell Award for butchering the English language.

This past weekend my computer wouldn't boot all the way. No error message at all. I used System File Checker and rebooted from the Last Known Good Configuration and everything is working fine.

Since we are on this topic, M$ Access 2000 occasionally fails and dutifully asks to send an error message. I decided one day to follow-up on this. The automated response was that Access 2000 was no longer a supported product and that the solution was to upgrade to the current version.

This is a disingenuous response, first these messages give the user the impression that M$ is doing quality control when in fact they are not. If M$ is not doing quality control, then why should the user assume that M$ would have developed for the upgrade a fix to the problem. Finally, upgrading to a new version is not necessarily an easy task for a complex and large database. Many times, the old programs fail when upgraded because of modifications M$ has made to the Access database program. M$ has an obligation to fix defective software that users depend on.

Posted by: Steve R. | August 27, 2007 6:00 PM | Report abuse

I feel absolutely no pity whatsoever for all the moths who had to fly into the flame by lining up to get Vista (Or XP for that matter) because they HAD TO HAVE the 'latest and greatest' (greatest - my @$$!)

When you insist on buying unfinished, untested and untried software - this is what you get.

My Windows 2000 still works great, and Microsoft couldn't disable it even if they tried with all their power and might.
There is no feature that gives Microsoft the opportunity to NOT trust the user.
(Hey Gates & Ballmer - Nyah nyah-nyah nyah nyah!)

There's "nothing" that others can do that I can't with Windows 2000.
(And my computer runs faster than anyone running XP or Vista.)

Posted by: SmartITGuy | August 27, 2007 7:25 PM | Report abuse

The Vista reduced functionality mode bit me Saturday morning. It was only after visiting the forums that I noticed you weren't supposed to reboot. Thanks a lot.

While browsing I noticed some posts about Ubuntu which I'd heard of from some of the guys in our office. Out of curiosity, I put it on my daughter's PC. Long story short, it's very sharp. It has pretty much everything from word processing to browsing to a web server.

I've got to admit it's hard getting my head around around the fact that something this good is completely free. But it's definitely an eye-opener.

It took this boondoggle to come to the realization that Microsoft could accidentally flip a switch and completely disrupt our business. Earlier today I made it a top priority to investigate switching all 15 machines in our office to Linux instead of paying for the Vista upgrades.

Even if the cost differential between the upgrade price and a consultant is less, I'm going to make sure that we at least get started down the Linux path.

- Steve

Posted by: Steve Ramon | August 27, 2007 10:42 PM | Report abuse

This problem caused me trouble as well as it would not let me download the WCF VS2005 extensions; a critical piece to complete my software project before Monday!

With a valid MSDN Universal License ($5500,-) in my hand I was stuck with nohwere to go. I waited till Monday morning and almost called their support before trying it one more time.

I was very peeved, to say the least!

Posted by: Carlo | August 28, 2007 12:51 AM | Report abuse

This BS is exactly why I am migrating away from MS BS.

Their validation crap is getting way out of hand.
Specially since their software is getting to the point where it just isn't worth purchasing anymore.

I mean hey, think about it and look at their history. When they started they weren't geared towards security but speed and user friendliness (user friendliness that they stole from Mac) and since they haven't been able to correct the problem. You can get a mac that is user friendly and will allow you to do what most people want to do... Surf the web, check email, play games and it uses less then half the resources and is more secure.

Since 3.1 they went to 95, which was OK but had security risks and was DOS based (DOS had no security, everything accessed everything at will), 98 it was unstable as a mother! unless you only checked email and surfed the web, then it was ok but don't use credit card numbers on it! Windows ME, most unstable OS ever produced (I believe) in history, biggest piece of crap ever put on the market and shouldn't have been released (EVER!). Win2k, stable OS, security was a little better but still crap then XP, unstable at first, only used 128MB of RAM to run, then they fixed most the problems but still insecure but now needs 1GB of RAM to run well. (BTW, don't argue with me about the 1GB, if you have 512 or less add enough to get 1GB and you'll about crap yourself) and now vista!!! OMG, trash it!!! Un-stable, can only install it on one machine, can't activate it more then twice, not support by lots of hardware and even the government boycotted it!! China and Australia went to Linux!!! Why? cause it is secure and can be setup to be friendly! Oh, don't forget there's so much free software that you won't need to buy anything unless it's something special.

So, does it surprise me that MS servers went down? NO, did it affect me? Fortunately no, I wasn't reloading a machine that day. I was doing other things.

Oh, don't forget that MS can't secure their crap either. Even they hide behind Linux based firewalls

Posted by: Anonymous | August 28, 2007 2:31 AM | Report abuse

I had something similar happen a couple of weeks ago with Norton Systemworks from Symantic.

I'm running Windows 2000 on my older home computer with Systemworks 2005 with licensed antivirus definitions, expiring in November. I like the utilities that come with Systemworks, particularly the speed disk defragmenter that has a bit more logic built in - such as placing files that don't change at the bottom of the drive so they don't need to be reprocessed every time the program is run.

Whenever there is a windows update, the "activation" for Symantic is lost, but the key is held in memory (the registry, somewhere I assume) and it's just a matter of doing the activation dance. But once a year or so since I bought it. the number of "activations" tops out and entire suite dies - it thinks it is a 30 day trial that has expired. This happened previously, but was reset after a relatively painless phone call about 18 months ago

I tried three methods to contact Symantic - email first, after no response fro a couple of days, the online chat session. This was not resolvable by the scripted responses there, and I was getting tired of typing the 24 or so digit key.

So I called the number given in the end of the chat session - the fellow at the other end insisted I find my "antivirus subscription" while I insisted that was irrelevant, that I had bought the entire suite, and there was no reason to believe that this was a service to be renewed, but software I owned. But to no avail. After being on the phone for a few hours (I had used an alternate email address the last time I had renewed - my mistake - so finding the confirmation on my end wasn't straight forward, but I hadn't expected to need it either)

Finally with my "Paid through November confirmation" in front of me, the tech on the phone said that there was nothing he could do and was going to issue a refund for the last year of the subscription ($26 or so).

Why should I have the entire $100 or so Suite of tools stop working because the "phone home" fails. I started out angry at Symantic from way back when I bought their product and they lost the "receipt" part of my mail in rebate, and when I sent a second photocopy, they said the time period was up (the denial snail mail came after the 30 day time to submit)

The upshot - the original email I sent was replied to a week later, stating that the counter had been reset and that my product should start working. If only they had done this in the first place - I'm sure I used up any profit they had in the original sale in tech support. And I was so peeved I'd have kept them on the line for another hour or two being deliberately obtuse except I was so angry at the reasonably polite but ineffective tech guy by the end.

If this was an operating system problem I would have been furious instead of just very peeved at my time being wasted.It's never a good idea to call your customers crooks.

What good is an antivirus system that turns itself off all the time anyway - isn't this just another door that hackers can use to gain access?

Boo Symantic!

Posted by: kdt | August 28, 2007 10:02 AM | Report abuse

The WGA server crashed when it was validating itself for a critical update.

Posted by: Bob | August 29, 2007 1:15 PM | Report abuse

If you recall all of the falderal a few years ago where Gates et al were testifying and being deposed to the effect that MS was really producing innovations. Well, here you have it - INNOVATION!

I got fed up with all of the "innovtion" several years ago and bought a Mac. Now I don't have to deal with all of this innovative nonsense and computing is fun again and not an annoyance.

I still have a 5 year old Dell nearby for the very occasional time when I need to run an old Windows program, but it seldom is turned on, never attached to the internet and runs W2K.

Posted by: rhpas | August 29, 2007 2:32 PM | Report abuse

When Vista was first released, I threw up the crosses and mumbled rites of protection.

After years of wrangling XP Pro into a manageable OS that would run all of my creativity software and wading through a ridiculous amount of bug-fixes (would you stand for buying a new car that needed "bug-fixes"?) - some of which were buggy themselves, I had no intention of buying a new MS OS. Their track record just didn't warrant it. Frankly, Vista is a both a hog and irrelevant.

I've been doing an experiment on an extra PC for about 8 months now. I installed XP Pro with SP2 without installing any updates or fixes. All of my Internet activity is done through 3rd party apps. So far, it has not crashed or received any infections in spite of using it for most of my downloading activity. All of my creativity software works without a hitch. The only updates it has received have been through the apps that require it themselves. No validations, no BS.

I keep waiting for the experiment to fail, so I can relegate the computer back to the storage closet. So far, it has been most illuminating.

Posted by: GL | August 30, 2007 9:12 AM | Report abuse

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